An open source-based Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).
It is an interesting concept, to say the least, and one that got The Question thinking after local freelance writer and former council candidate Steve Andrews presented the idea at the recent Whistler Museum speaker series.
The open source movement and the paradigm of opening up controlled information systems to grassroots community engagement certainly has the potential to revolutionize the way things are done. But the question is whether or not there is a place for that within municipal government?
We think there is, but the challenge may not be getting those who are in power at the RMOW to loosen their grip on information. It may in fact be harder to get citizens to demand an open source system and then engage in the process.
Communications with the community by the RMOW has greatly improved in the recent past. There are weekly newsletters, council briefs are emailed out after meetings, there are user surveys for recreation facilities and most recently the PlaceSpeak page was created for dialogue on the 2013 budget.
Administration has posted 15 discussion topics since December, when the communication tool was started. While it has had 390 unique views, only three people have commented. One on training bus drivers to be more friendly to tourists, one on recreation fee structures and another on how RMI funding should go towards tourist amenities, user fees and taxes for services for residents.
Information about the budget is available at this one-stop community consultation page and includes videos and slideshows, presentations from the Economic Partnership Initiative, the Council Action Plan and the RMOW’s Corporate Plan, to name a few documents and links.
However, what is not there is an actual copy of the budget. That will be made public when the agenda is released for the council meeting at which council will vote on the five-year financial plan — likely next week.
So while the RMOW is reaching out to engage the community in conversations, it is still ultimately controlling the information and the concept Andrews is advocating for, open source, would see actual departmental budgets available online, even if they were still a work in progress. Those budgets, we might add in an open source system, would be made available as a spreadsheet and not just a pdf version, like what will be in the council agenda. That would indeed be taking transparency at muni hall to a new level for this community and could kickstart the revolution Andrews is talking about.
Applying open source concepts to municipal government doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can be one thing at a time, one issue at a time.
These ideas are possible if there is a will from the citizens of this community to actually engage in this kind of in-depth dialogue about municipal government. Given the obvious lackluster public response on PlaceSpeak so far, we worry that will remains collectively dormant within the community.
Maybe the next election will wake it up.